Joe Murray initially created the title character for an unpublished comic book series in the late 1980s, and later reluctantly pitched the series to Nickelodeon, who was looking for edgier cartoonists for their new Nicktoons block. The network gave the staff of the program a large amount of creative freedom, the writers targeting both children and adults. The show's animations stylistically feature crooked architecture. In addition, Murray picked a large amount of newcomer voice actors, such as Tom Kenny and Carlos Alazraqui, who have in recent years gone on to become very popular. The show was the fourth Nicktoon to premiere.
Produced by Games Animation and Joe Murray Productions, the show premiered on September 18, 1993 and ended on November 24, 1996. After the show's completion, much of the staff regrouped to work on SpongeBob SquarePants, created by producer Stephen Hillenburg. Rocko's Modern Life generally received positive reviews during its original broadcast run and in recent years has seen renewed praise for sophisticated and subversive humor. The series also has over time developed a devoted following of fans, making many commentators deem it a cult television show.
Originally, the character appeared in an unpublished comic book titled Travis. Murray tried selling the comic book in the late 1980s, between illustrating jobs, and did not find success in getting it into production. Many other characters appeared in various sketchbooks. He described the early 1990s animation atmosphere as "ripe for this kind of project. We took some chances that would be hard to do in these current times (the 1990s)". Murray wanted funding for his independent film My Dog Zero, so he wanted Nickelodeon to pre-buy television rights for the series. He presented a pencil test to Nickelodeon, which afterward became interested in buying and financing the show. Murray had never worked in television before. The industry was coming out of a "rough period" and Murray wanted to "shake things up a bit."
Linda Simensky, then in charge of animation development in Nickelodeon, described the Nicktoons lineup and concept to Murray. He originally felt skepticism towards the concept of creating a Nicktoon as he disliked television cartoons. Simensky told him that Nicktoons differed from other cartoons. He then told her that he believed that My Dog Zero would not work as a cartoon. He then researched Nickelodeon at the library and found that Nickelodeon's "attitude was different than regular TV." The cable network providers were "making their own rules": for example, Murray stated that he "didn't write for children," which the executives were fine with. Murray was unsure at first, but was inspired by independent animation around him, such as Animation Celebration and MTV's Liquid Television, and gave the network a shot. At the time, Nickelodeon was selling itself as a network based as much around edge as around kids’ entertainment. It aimed to appeal to college students and parents as much as children.
Murray developed the Rocko character after visiting a zoo in the Bay Area and coming across a wallaby that seemed to be oblivious to the chaos around him. Murray combed through his sketchbooks, developed the Rocko's Modern Life concept, and submitted it to Nickelodeon, believing that the concept would likely be rejected. Murray felt they would not like the pilot, and he would just collect his sum and begin funding his next independent film. According to Murray, around three or four months later he had "forgotten about" the concept and was working on My Dog Zero when Simensky informed him that Nickelodeon wanted a pilot episode. Murray said that he was glad that he would get funding for My Dog Zero. On his website he describes My Dog Zero as "that film that Linda Simensky saw which led me to Rocko." "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic" was originally written as the pilot; the executives decided that Heffer Wolfe, one of the characters, would be "a little too weird for test audiences." Murray, instead of removing Heffer from "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic," decided to write "Trash-O-Madness" as the pilot episode.
In the original series pilot, Rocko was colored yellow. His color was changed when a toy merchandising company informed Nick they were interested in marketing dolls but did not want to market Rocko because "They already had a yellow character." Murray changed Rocko's color to beige, and after the pilot aired, the company opted out of producing toys for the series. When the series was in development prior to the release of the first episode, the series had the title The Rocko Show.
In November 1992, two months prior to the production of season 1 of Rocko's Modern Life, Murray's first wife committed suicide. Murray had often blamed his wife's suicide on the show being picked up. He said "It was always an awful connection because I look at Rocko as such a positive in my life." Murray felt that he had emotional and physical "unresolved issues" when he moved to Los Angeles. He describes the experience as like participating in "marathon with my pants around my ankles." Murray initially believed that he would create one season, move back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and "clean up the loose ends I had left hanging." Murray said that he felt surprised when Nickelodeon approved new seasons; Nickelodeon renewed the series for its second season in December 1993.
After season 3 he decided to hand the project to Stephen Hillenburg, who performed most work for season 4; Murray continued to manage the cartoon. He said that he would completely leave the production after season 4. He said also that he encouraged the network to continue production, but Nickelodeon eventually decided to cancel the series. He described all fifty-two episodes as "top notch", and in his view the quality of a television show may decline as production continues "when you are dealing with volume." On his website he said that, "In some ways it succeeded and in some ways failed. All I know it developed its own flavor and an equally original legion of fans." In a 1997 interview Murray said that he at times wondered if he could re-start the series; he feels the task would be difficult.
Production I think what set the [1990's] apart was the fact that the climate was ripe for people taking chances and doing different things. Both Nick and Cartoon Network were able to invest on people who had nothing to lose. Of course, the result of that was that there was a big explosion in the scene. There were big successes—like that yellow spongethat popped up in a big way—and with that success came another era where people aren’t apt to take as many chances because the stakes are too high. —Series creator Joe Murray in 2011, on being a part of the creative animation scene in the early 1990s.The show was jointly produced between Games Animation and Joe Murray Productions. Since Nickelodeon did not have an animation studio, that had to contract out to other studios. After incidents with The Ren & Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi, Nickelodeon began to not trust its creators as much and began to form its own studio - Games Animation. However, Murray recalls that they were still able to get a lot done independently. Murray has likened the independence to that of "Termite Terrace" (Warner Bros. Cartoons) from the 1930s. As Nickelodeon began to have more and more success with its animation cartoons, Murray said the "Termite Terrace" mentality was not working as much. Producer Mary Harrington made the move from New York City to Los Angeles to set up Games Animation, in order to produce Rocko's Modern Life. The crew first began production on the show in January 1993. Rocko's Modern Life was Nickelodeon's first in-house animated production.
Murray's Joe Murray Productions and Games Animation rented office space on Ventura Boulevard in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. The production moved to a different office building on Vineland Avenue in Studio City. Executives did not share space with the creative team. Murray rented a floor in the Writers Guild of America, West building, although the team of Rocko was not a part of the union, which the staff found ironic. Sunwoo, and later Rough Draft Studios, assembled the animation. According to Murray, as Rocko's Modern Life was his first television series, he did not know about the atmosphere of typical animation studios. Murray said that he opted to operate his studio in a similar manner to the operation of his Saratoga, California studio, which he describes as "Very relaxed." His cadre included many veterans who, according to him, described the experience as "the most fun they had ever had!" He, saying that the atmosphere was "not my doing," credited his team members for collectively contributing. Murray described the daily atmosphere at the studio as "very loose," adding that the rules permitted all staff members to use the paging system to make announcements. He stated that one visitor compared the environment of the production studio to "preschool without supervision." Murray stated that 70 people in the United States and over 200 people in South Korea animated the series.
Rick Bentley of the Ventura County Star said that it was unusual for a cartoon creator to select a wallaby as a main character. Bentley also stated that the Rocko universe was influenced by "everything from Looney Tunes to underground comics." The staff of the show were fans of outrageous comedy, both animated and not animated. Tom Kenny cited Looney Tunes and SCTV as influences for the show, and also stated "I'm sure if you asked Joe Murray or Mr. Lawrence or any of those guys, especially in terms of animation, the weirdest cartoons would of course be our favorites—those weird ‘30s Fleischer brothers Betty Boop cartoons and stuff like that."
Murray produced the pilot episode, "Trash-O-Madness", at his studio in Saratoga; he animated half of the episode, and the production occurred entirely in the United States, with animation in Saratoga and processing in San Francisco. While directing during recording sessions, Murray preferred to be on the stage with the actors instead of "behind glass" in a control room, which he describes as "the norm" while making animated series. He believes that, due to his lack of experience with children, Rocko's Modern Life "skewed kind of older." Murray noted, "There's a lot of big kids out there. People went to see 'Roger Rabbit' and saw all these characters they'd grown up with and said, 'Yeah, why don't they have something like that anymore?'" When he began producing Rocko, he says that his experience in independent films initially led him to attempt to micromanage many details in the production. He said that the approach, when used for production of television shows, was "driving me crazy." This led him to allow for other team members to manage aspects of the Rocko's Modern Life production. Director and later creative director Stephen Hillenburg met Murray at an animation film festival where he was showing his three short films. Murray hired Hillenburg as a director on the series, making Hillenburg's first job in the animation business as a director.
Murray designed the logo of the series. He said that, after his design drifted from the original design, Nickelodeon informed Murray of how it intended the logo to look like. Murray also designed the covers of the comic book, the VHS releases, and the recent DVD releases.
The writers aimed to create stories that they describe as "strong" and "funny." The writers, including George Maestri and Martin Olson, often presented ideas to Murray while eating hamburgers at Rocky's, a restaurant formerly located on Lankershim in the North Hollywood section of the San Fernando Valley. He took his team members on "writing trips" to places such as Rocky's, the LaBrea Tar Pits, and the wilderness. If he liked the story premises, the writers produced full outlines from the premises. Outlines approved by both him and Nickelodeon became Rocko's Modern Life episodes. Maestri describes some stories as originating from "real life" and some originating from "thin air." Murray stated that each episode of Rocko's Modern Life stemmed from the personal experiences of himself and/or one or more of the directors or writers. He said that he did not intend to use formulaic writing seen in other cartoons; he desired content that "broke new ground" and "did things that rode the edge," and that could be described as "unexpected." He did not hire writers who had previous experience with writing cartoons, instead hiring writers who worked outside of animation, including improv actors and comic artists. He said that story concepts that "ever smacked close to some formula idea that we had all seen before" received rejection.
Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, a storyboard writer, says that writers of Rocko's Modern Life targeted children and adults. He cites Rocky and Bullwinkle as an example of another series that contains references indecipherable by children and understood by adults. Aiming for a similar goal, Marsh described the process as "a hard job." According to him, when censors questioned proposed material, sometimes the team disagreed with the opinions of the censors and sometimes the team agreed with the rationale of the censors. He says that "many people" told him that the team "succeeded in this endevour" [sic] and that "many parents I know really enjoyed watching the show with their kids for just this reason." John Pacenti said the series "seems very much aimed at adults" "for a children's' cartoon." Marsh believes that the material written by Doug Lawrence stands as an example of a "unique sense of humor." For instance, Marsh credits Lawrence with the "pineapple references" adding that Lawrence believed that pineapples seemed humorous. The staff drew upon Looney Tunes and the Fleischer cartoons to appeal to wide demographic: having a certain adult sensibility but also enjoyed by kids.
Rocko's Modern Life has been described as similar to that of the output of Warner Bros Cartoons in the Golden Age: a visually driven show heavy on humor, sight gags, and good animation. Instead of a finished script, the animators usually received a three-page outline, requiring them to come up with a majority of the gags and dialogue. The animation team appreciated this approach, with storyboard artist Jeff Myers, formerly of The Simpsons, quoted as saying "The script [at The Simpsons] was carved in stone. Here it's […] more of a challenge and a lot more fun when we're given a rough outline." Murray's animation lacked parallel lines and featured crooked architecture similar to various Chuck Jones cartoons. In an interview he stated that his design style contributed to the show's "Wonky bent feel." Jean Prescott of The Sun Herald described the series as "squash-and-stretch." A 1993 Houston Chronicle article described the series' setting as having a "reality that is 'squashed and stretched' into a twisted version of real life." The background staff hand-painted backgrounds with Dr. Martin Dyes, while each episode title card consisted of an original painting. Linda Simensky said that she asked the creators of Rocko's Modern Life about why the women in the series were drawn to be "top-heavy," the creators told her that they believed that drawing women "the traditional way" was easier. Simensky described the creators as "talented guys" who formed "a boy's club" and added that "we pushed them to be funny, but a lot of their women are stereotypical."
There are three versions of the Rocko's Modern Life theme song. The first and original version can be heard playing throughout the first two season one episodes to be produced. The second version of the theme song was a slightly remixed version of the first and was used during most episodes of season one. Version 1 had high pitched voices in the chorus. The third version of the theme song was performed by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from The B-52s. They performed the Rocko's Modern Life theme song from Season 2 onwards.
At first Murray wanted Paul Sumares to perform the theme song since Sumares created most of the music found in My Dog Zero. Murray wanted the same style in My Dog Zero exhibited in Rocko's Modern Life. Nickelodeon wanted a person with more experience. According to Sumares, believing for the request to be a long shot, Murray asked for Danny Elfman and felt stunned when Nickelodeon decided to honor his request by asking Elfman to perform. According to Murray, Elfman, his first choice, was booked. Therefore he chose the B-52's, his second choice. According to Sumares Murray decided to use the B-52's instead of Elfman. Murray states that the difference between the stories "could just be a recollection conflict, because Paul is a brilliant amazing guy." Murray also sought Alan Silvestri. According to Sumares Viacom did not want to use Silvestri as the organization wanted a band "slightly older kids could identify with."
Pat Irwin, a veteran of many bands, including the New York-based instrumental group the Raybeats, and, a side gig, the B-52s, spent five years as a music director on the series. Leading a six-piece combo, Irwin brought together musicians such as trombonist Art Baron and drummer Kevin Norton.
The plot follows the life of a wallaby, Rocko, who has immigrated to America from Australia. In America, he is faced with various problems and challenges involving his pals who try to teach him what it means to be a good friend. Many of the locations in the television show Rocko's Modern Lifehave the letter "O" for example O-Town and Conglom-O. When asked about the use of "O" in his show Murray said, I always got a big kick out of the businesses that were 'House-O-Paint', or 'Ton-O-Noodles', because their names seemed to homogenize what they sold, and strip the products of true individuality and stress volume ... and we all know, the American dream is volume! So what better company to create volume than 'Conglom-O', and since a majority of the town worked at Conglom-O, it should be called 'O' Town. I also wanted the town to be 'anytown' USA, and I used to love sports players with a big ZERO on their back. It was funny to me.The plot locations included the following:
- O-Town is the town in which Rocko lives, apparently located near the Great Lakes.
- Chokey Chicken is a favorite restaurant/hang-out place for Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. At some point during the fourth season the restaurant was renamed "Chewy Chicken" due to the former name referring to a euphemism for masturbation (i.e., "choking the chicken"), though earlier episodes continued to air with the "Chokey Chicken" name. It's a parody of KFC.
- Conglom-O Corporation is the biggest company in town; it even runs City Hall. Mr. Dupette, who has very peculiar ways to see if the employees are fit to work there, manages Conglom-O. Conglom-O does not seem to have a specific purpose or product—it is a giant company that manufactures many products. Conglom-O's slogan is always shown beneath its name. The slogan is "We own you," revealing in a later musical episode that they own everything in O-Town. When Ed Bighead was shown to work at Conglom-O in 1961, the slogan stated "We Will Own You" (alluding to the future of megacorporations). The illustration that appears with the logo and on top of the official Conglom-O Corp. skyscraper is a martini glass with the earth in place of an olive.
- Heck is where "bad people" go when they die. Run by Peaches, it is where Heffer is doomed to eternal suffering.
- Holl-o-Wood is a town that resembles the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California.
- Kind of a Lot O' Comics is a comic book store where Rocko works. His boss, Mr. Smitty, is a cruel toad who only concentrates on selling comics. Rocko, however, is very nice and giving. For example, when a customer sneezed all over a comic, Rocko gave him a fresh copy and did not charge him for the previous comic.
Murray said that the cartoon "resonated" with people because the scenarios depicted in the cartoon involving "the neurosis, the daily chores of everyday life" were based on Murray's own experiences "breaking out into the world" after leaving school. The show was first debuted in a preview on September 18, 1993, and officially premiered the following morning, to join Nickelodeon's Sunday morning animation block. On September 18, the series' first night of airing, Rocko's Modern Life received a 3.0 in ratings. By January 31, 1994 the series' audience grew by 65%. Rocko's Modern Life, was at the time the network's highest-rated cartoon launch ever. There was a brief period in 1993 when the network received numerous complaints from members of a religious group that Ren & Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life were too adult-oriented to be shown to kids on Sunday mornings. They wanted the shows moved to a different time slot. The network was polite but did not make the programming change.
Initial reviews of Rocko's Modern Life were positive. The Miami Herald ran an article about series that were "rais[ing] the standards for children's programming," singling out Rocko's Modern Life as "definitely worth a look." Jennifer Mangan of the Chicago Tribune likened the series to The Simpsons, noting the show as another example of adult animation that is "not for kids." Newsday highlighted the show's "twisted sight gags. Ted Drozdowski of The Boston Phoenix stated in the "Eye pleasers" article that he enjoyed Rocko's Modern Life because of "jovial excitement," "good-hearted outrage," "humanity," and "pushy animated characterizations." However, not all reviews were positive. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly described the series as "a witless rip-off of Ren & Stimpy: mucus jokes without the redeeming surrealism or contempt for authority." Charles Solomon of the Los Angeles Times called the series "rock bottom" and a "tasteless attempt to capture the Ren & Stimpy audience," mostly expressing displeasure at the crass humor.
Common Sense Media reviewer Andrea Graham, whose review is posted on Go.com, describes Rocko's Modern Life as "somewhat edgy" and gave the series four out of five stars. Graham also warned parents to watch for "innuendos."
Timothy J. Borquez, Patrick Foley, Michael Giesler, Michael A. Gollorn, William B. Griggs, Tom Jeager, Gregory LaPlante, Timothy Mertens, and Kenneth Young of Rocko's Modern Life received a 1993 Daytime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Film Sound Editing."
In the summer of 2006, Rocko's Modern Life came back to Nickelodeon as part of the Nick Rewind block. Reruns of Rocko's Modern Life currently air on Nicktoons TV and Nick Canada. In New Zealand Rocko's Modern Life is still aired on Nickelodeon and has been in the past by both TV2 and TV3.
MTV picked up Rocko's Modern Life from sister station Nickelodeon in early 1994 in an attempt to lure Beavis and Butt-head viewers. In Malaysia Rocko's Modern Life aired in MetroVision around 1997. In the early 2000s (decade) Nickelodeon Japan marketed the show along with The Ren and Stimpy Show.
In Australia, it was shown on Nickelodeon in the late 1990s and there have been reruns of episodes late at night throughout the years. The show was also shown on ABC Kids during the early 2000s (decade).
The first season was screened in the United Kingdom during the summer of 1994, it aired every Tuesday night at 18:00 on Channel 4 until the slot was taken by the fourth series of the now defunct GamesMaster. After this series of GamesMaster ended, Rocko's Modern Life never returned to the channel, although all of the first season was shown.
It was also shown on Ukrainian channel ICTV: Rocko's Modern Life on ICTV. Rocko's Modern Life was one of the seminal premieres on Nickelodeon Canada, the network's Canadian extension launched in November 2009.
The fourth Nicktoon to debut, Rocko’s boasts a sizable cult fan-base to this day. Tom Kenny cited Rocko's Modern Life as vital in him learning how to do voiceover for animation. He recalled that seeing Charlie Adler have a two-way conversation with himself as the Bigheads without any edits was "dazzling." It was a very early job for Mr. Lawrence.
Many members of the Rocko's Modern Life staff have, in recent years, gone on to become incredibly successful. Stephen Hillenburg later went on to pitch a new series to Nickelodeon in 1998, regarding which Murray said "If it goes well, it'll be a blessing to us all." The network bought the pitch and SpongeBob SquarePants premiered the following year, becoming an enormous popular, critical and financial success. Hillenburg stated that he "learned a great deal about writing and producing animation for TV" from his time on Rocko's Modern Life and noted that "a lot of people came off of Rocko that work on SpongeBob." Tom Kenny, who voiced Heffer Wolfe, performs the voice of the title character, SpongeBob. Two writers for the series, Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, went on to create Phineas and Ferb for the Disney Channel; the show became a ratings success and received numerous award nominations. When Murray returned with a new animated series, Camp Lazlo, in 2005, much of the former staff of Rocko's Modern Life joined him. Murray stated that "We always kept in touch and they told me to look them up if I ever did another project," adding that the crew already knew his sensibilities and an extra decade worth of experience. Carlos Alazraqui, who played Rocko, also ended up playing the main character of Lazlo. Derek Drymon and Nick Jennings, both part of the staff, went on to be responsible for the tone and visual looks of a lot of very successful animated series that came later.
In recent years, the show has seen renewed acclaim. Brahna Siegelberg of Slate said that the aspect that was most compelling was that the show had "a really poignant critique of the materialist demands of American life." She added that she "realized that Rocko was really a show about how to navigate the adult world; one that could be appreciated by kids for its slapstick humor and absurdity, but had even more to say to young adults—like me." IGN called the show a prime example of the "sophisticated, intelligent brand of children's programming" during Nickelodeon's golden age. The A.V. Club also called the show "one of the best series" from that era, praising the show's "impressive commitment to expressive character acting, well-drawn sight gags, and cartoony jokes that play with the form’s slapstick strengths." New York compared the series' humor, in retrospect, to that of Office Space (1999) and praised the subversive, anti-corporate stories.
Rocko's Modern Life has been noted for its racy humor. Adults made up more than one-fifth of the audience for the show during its run. The series contained numerous adult innuendos, such as Rocko's brief stint as a telephone operator: the instructions on the wall behind him helpfully remind all employees to "Be Hot, Be Naughty, and Be Courteous" while he flatly repeats "Oh baby" into the receiver. Joe Murray noted that the season one segment "Leap Frogs" received "some complaints from some parents," leading to Nickelodeon banning the episode from air for the rest of the show's run. In "The Good, the Bad and the Wallaby", Heffer encounters a milking machine and finds pleasure, although only his reactions are shown onscreen. According to writer/director Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, the scene was originally supposed to have hearts appearing in Heffer's eyes at the climactic moment. Sure it wasn't going to make it, they described the scene to Nickelodeon censors anyway: "We described the scene, and then waited for the axe to fall, but all they said was 'can you change the hearts to stars?', we said sure, and it went in." The scene, as well as a scene showing Heffer's break-up with the machine, were later removed.
There were at least two occurrences of immediate censorship of the series. The original broadcast of the segment "Road Rash" featured a scene in which Rocko and Heffer stop at a seedy motel (the "No-Tell Motel") advertising "hourly rates" and ask the oriental-horse desk clerk for a room, who implies the two will be engaging in intercourse: "All night? [whistles] Wheeeooo! Okay." The first airing of "Hut Sut Raw" included a scene in which Rocko is picking berries; upon picking one lower on the bush, a bear rushes out whimpering and grasping his crotch. Both scenes were edited by Nickelodeon after their first broadcasts and are the only instances of censorship on the season two DVD, released in 2012. In addition, the restaurant named "Chokey Chicken" (a term for masturbation) was renamed "Chewy Chicken" for the series' fourth season. As the series entered reruns after cancellation, more scenes were cut. The entire episode "Leap Frogs", in which Bev Bighead attempts to seduce Rocko, was skipped.
When Shout! Factory announced a DVD retail release for the series, there were concerns on whether Nickelodeon would allow Shout! to release the series complete with some of the racier humor that the network eventually cut out for reruns.In the end, Shout! Factory only received materials from sources that were edited for broadcast, so the episodes still remained censored on the DVDs. Cpoyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocko%27s_Modern_Life